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University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) alumna Dr. Kalpana “K.C.” Chawla was born in Karnal, India on July 1, 1961. Her love of flying was kindled from an early age as she began to follow her dream to become an aerospace engineer. The path to seeing her dreams fulfilled began in India with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from Punjab Engineering College in 1982. Afterwards, Kalpana came to Texas to further her education at UTA. She said she chose UTA over nine other universities because of its international reputation and the availability of scholarships. After graduating from UTA in 1984 with her Masters of Aerospace Engineering, she went to the University of Colorado where she received her doctorate in 1988.

Dr. Chawla returned to UTA as a speaker several times and captivated students as she spoke of the thrill of flying, the beauty of seeing the Earth pass serenely below, and how everyone should pursue their dreams. Her own dreams became reality with her acceptance into NASA’s astronaut program in 1994. Dr. Chawla faced the great mysteries of space with her first mission in 1997, becoming the first Indian-born female to do so. In January 2003, she returned to space on a mission aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia as flight engineer and Mission Specialist 2. Through her accomplishments, Dr. Chawla rose to be a bright beacon of hope and inspiration. Dr. Don Wilson, who was her thesis advisor at UTA, remarked that, “She was regarded as a national hero in India, and looked upon as an outstanding role model, particularly among young ladies that like her aspire to careers, not only in science and engineering, but in other professions as well.”

Dr. Chawla died on February 1, 2003, over the southern United States when the Space Shuttle Columbia and her crew tragically perished during re-entry. Today, her memory lives on with the establishment of the Kalpana Chawla Endowed Scholarship and Kalpana Chawla Hall.

The scholarship was established in 2003 to memorialize Dr. Chawla’s dedicated service to the NASA Manned Space Flight Program and is awarded to engineering students who share her courage and determination. Students like Ajit John, the first recipient of the scholarship stated that, “It was a great privilege to be the first recipient of this scholarship named after a great astronaut, scientist and engineer. The scholarship was a great source of inspiration and encouragement in my research. I am thankful to all those who made it possible.”

As of August 31, 2004, the scholarship, which is invested in the Long Term Fund, has a market value of $28,524. In addition to the endowed scholarship in her name, UTA has dedicated its first Residential Learning Center, which opened August 2004, in honor of Dr. Chawla. The living/learning program housed in the Kalpana Chawla Hall will promote student success through a richer learning environment and will include a shared curriculum and faculty and peer mentoring. Through the Kalpana Chawla Endowed Scholarship and Kalpana Chawla Hall, deserving students will be better able to follow their dreams and honor the memory of a woman who dared to reach for the stars.

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